Learning from our experience

Most of the oldWeather science team are weather scientists or historians, but not all. This post is by Charlene Jennett, Alexandra Eveleigh and Laure Kloetzer. We are social scientists and we are trying to find out what makes a good citizen science project – who better to ask than the oldWeather participants?

About a year ago we asked the participants in oldWeather for a different sort of help: We asked you to tell us what it was like to participate in the project, by filling in an online survey. And we followed that up with several interviews with Old Weather volunteers. It has been fascinating to learn about your experiences of volunteering and we were so happy that so many of you responded – we received 545 survey responses and interviewed 16 volunteers in total. Since conducting this research we have been very busy analyzing all of the data and recently we have started to present some of our findings at conferences. In this blog post we wanted to share with you some of our findings and say thank you again for all of your help – we could not have done it without you!

Creativity in Citizen Cyberscience: All for One and One for All

On Wednesday 1st May 2013, the ACM Web Science conference (in Paris, France) held a workshop called ‘Creativity and Attention in the Age of the Web.’ During the workshop Charlene presented some of our initial findings, discussing what does it mean for volunteers to be ‘creative’ in citizen cyberscience? These findings were based on our interviews with Old Weather and several other projects – Galaxy Zoo, Transcribe Bentham, Bat Detective and Noise-Map.

In her presentation Charlene discussed two kinds of creativity:

  1. Creativity as Imaginative Self-Expression – When asked to give an example of creativity, several participants described instances where volunteers contributed artwork and humour to the project forums. These contributions were viewed as creative because they were imaginative and served as interesting discussion points for the project communities.
  2. Creativity as Solving Project Problems – Other examples that participants gave of creativity involved problem-solving. Several participants described instances where volunteers took it upon themselves to suggest ideas or create content in order to solve problems experienced by project members.

One of our conclusions is that a good project community is important for encouraging creativity in citizen science. You can see more in the full paper.

Learning by volunteer computing, thinking and gaming: What and how are volunteers learning by participating in Virtual Citizen Science?

On Friday 6th September 2013, the ESREA conference (in Berlin, Germany) held a session on ‘Learning with ICT.’ During this session our colleagues Laure Kloetzer and Daniel Schneider from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) gave a presentation about what volunteers learn by participating in virtual citizen science projects. These findings were based on UCL’s interviews with Old Weather volunteers, and Laure’s interviews with BOINC and Eyewire volunteers.

In their presentation Laure and Daniel discussed six kinds of learning:

  1. Task/game mechanics – e.g. commands of the interface, rules and concepts of the game.
  2. Pattern recognition – looking repeatedly at the data you get a sense of what is meaningful.
  3. On-topic learning – e.g. content knowledge related to weather and naval history.
  4. Scientific process – understanding what science does and how it works.
  5. Off-topic knowledge and skills – e.g. communication skills, computer literacy.
  6. Personal development – e.g. expanding your interests, extending your social network.

One of our conclusions is that most of the learning that happens in citizen science projects tends to be informal, unstructured and social.

“I want to be a Captain! I want to be a Captain!” Gamification in the Old Weather Citizen Science Project

On Friday 4th October 2013, the Gamification conference (in Stratford, Canada) held a session on ‘Education’. During this session Charlene gave a presentation about what volunteers thought of Old Weather’s ranking system, where you start as a Cadet and can be promoted to Lieutenant (30+ weather observations) and possibly even Captain (top transcriber). These findings were based on our survey and interviews with Old Weather volunteers.
In her presentation Charlene described how volunteers had a mixture of positive and negative views:

  • Positive Views – Volunteers liked that the ranking system validated their efforts. It allowed them to track their personal progress and to assess their personal contribution towards the project’s progress. Also some volunteers really enjoyed the competitive aspects. It was fun to work towards being the Captain of a ship, and once it was achieved, to try to maintain the position of Captain.
  • Negative Views – Some volunteers found the ranking demotivating, feeling that they could never catch up with the Captain. Captains themselves sometimes found it stressful trying to stay on top. Some volunteers also expressed concerns that the ranking system rewarded quantity over quality, as the system didn’t reward volunteers for submitting more detailed transcriptions that include daily ‘event’ occurrences (useful for historical research)

One of our conclusions is that the same competitive gamification mechanisms which motivate some volunteers can be demotivating for others. Again you can see more in the full paper.

One response to “Learning from our experience”

  1. studentforever says :

    I’ve now become a ship editor. I don’t find OW3 as rewarding as OW 1 & 2 but editing is proving really fascinating and I’m learning even more history and getting an appreciation of the merchant shipping fleet.

    What would be great is to develop a teaching pack (or packs) for schools since I suspect there will be a lot of material about the army and the sea will be either forgotten or viewed as an adjunct to the army operation at Gallipoli.

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